A is for Active

The letter ATime for the Blogging A-Z challenge again! I really enjoyed it last year, and I need to get back into the habit of writing regularly, so here goes:

I’m a lot more active these days than I used to be. I exercise regularly, which involves swimming, running, cycling and walking – usually doing at least two every day. I’ve just taken on an allotment, so add a lot of heavy digging into that list and you can see why I’m suffering from aching legs and arms quite frequently at the moment!

I’m desperately trying to stop spending time sitting around doing very little. So the intention is that I’m either sitting at my desk working hard, or I’m up doing housework, gardening or going out for some form of exercise. So far things are going well, especially with the better weather and lighter evenings heading our way.

The one activity that I haven’t managed to work into a daily or weekly routine at the moment is time to write. That’s something I really must do. Maybe when my allotment is up and running and I have a shed up there with a desk and chair, I can get into the habit of spending time up there sitting writing, away from distractions like the internet. Once I have enough work coming in to earn the money to be able to afford to relax, of course. There’s always an obstacle in the way, it seems.

And yet I now manage quite happily to fit exercise into my daily life. I just need to recognise writing as important as well, and make time for it.



Nanowrimo or nablopomo?

It’s coming up to that time of the year again. National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Posting Month. Last year I stuck with the blog posts. Previous years I’ve attempted (and twice succeeded with) the novel. So what will it be this year?

I have enough time on my hands now that I can’t say I can only do blogs. I’ve been planning my novel for a while so I’m ready to write it up during November. Can I possibly manage to do both challenges, to write 50,000 words in November and post to my blog every day?

I’ve been thinking about writing, and wondering if I approach it all wrong. I seem to have some belief that I plan now and I write in November. I’m worried that if I don’t plan enough now I’ll write myself into a corner. But writing doesn’t always work that way – at least not for me. I keep feeling that I channel the writing, that it has to flow from my brain through my fingers to the page, and that there’s no time to stop and think.

That’s wrong.

Even when I start writing, it doesn’t mean I have to stop planning. I still need to set aside time other than the time I spend writing, in order to consider how the story is going, whether it’s heading the right way, what to do about it… I do want to force through a first draft, and I know the quality of the writing doesn’t matter at this point. But the plot does matter – there is already a draft of this story, but the plot was less well formed, and so most of it is unusable.

So I think if I want to do nanowrimo and have something usable at the end, I need to do nablopomo as well. I need to take that time to think about how my writing is going, whether the plot is going as I expected, anything unexpected that crops up and anything I need to figure out before the next session.

Some of the beauty of nanowrimo is when the words take over, when the story does flow and the characters take on a life of their own. But this year I’d like to keep a little more control on it than previously, so that it’s well thought out and developed, rather than whatever comes into my head.

I guess that’s a lot of writing (and thinking) planned for November!


My first Insecure Writers Support Group Post

As I understand it, the idea of the IWSG is to post on the first Wednesday of every month your honest experiences with your writing, to share the triumphs and admit to the defeats, and then to support others who are doing the same thing.

So where am I in my writing life?

Research for my non-fiction history project is going well; I spend one morning a week in the archives researching with the aid of the old documents, and during the rest of the week I’m spending some time tracing family trees or reading generally about workhouses. (AHEM! READING GENERALLY! YOU’VE SAID IT, NOW GET ON WITH IT! YES BOSS).

I have what I believe is a sound idea for a computing textbook for schools, which I’ve made a start on but need to get back to.

That’s two projects on the go. Both non-fiction.
I had a crisis of confidence over the past week, thinking that there are so many writers out there already, the world doesn’t need someone else adding to the pile and there aren’t enough readers to go round as it is.Oh dear! So why does my brain keep insisting it wants to write fiction? Haven’t I got enough to do already?

This week I’ve faced up to that and said that I can still write for my own enjoyment, whether it’s anything that gets published or not. I have started to map out a fiction fantasy novel, probably YA type, but possibly bleeding over into adult (I believe this YA is a myth anyway; most prolific readers I know will read anything, children/adult/teen/YA labels notwithstanding.

My problem is that I’m trying to invent a whole new fantasy world, to mix in with the real world, and my imagination doesn’t work that way. Give me a situation or idea and I can spin half a dozen stories/themes/variations off it before you can blink, but give me a blank sheet and my mind will imitate it faithfully.

I’ve decided that although planning is important, I can spend various spare moments in the day brooding on my plot, and need to make sure I do. My main writing priority though needs to be practice, so I’m going to drag down one of the many writing books I’ve got on my bookshelf, pick some writing exercises, probably about creating worlds or characters, and start having a go, on the principle that I have a lot of crap to get through before I find the good stuff so the sooner I start, the better.

How about you?

So what have I learned so far?

We’re more than halfway through the challenge so far; the last letter posted was R yesterday. Today being Sunday, there’s no scheduled A-Z challenge post, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back.

Thousands of people signed up for the challenge; I’ve taken a look at a few, and sadly it seems there are many who signed up and then didn’t take part. Many others did, and when I’ve had a few moments I’ve taken a look at some of them.

There’s Vikki’s blog where she is taking a look at a different writer each day. The part of that I enjoy most is reading quotes from the writers, usually on what they have to say about writing itself.

There’s coffee rings everywhere, with a drabble a day, proving that stories don’t have to be long to be entertaining – or thought-provoking.

There’s Bridget Straub, who always brightens up her posts with great images.

There’s Bears Noting, with plenty of thought-provoking posts.

One that I found just the other day and had to hunt for again because I forgot to bookmark it is open-faced sandwich, which caught my attention with this quote: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased.”  –RW Emerson.

There are more that I’ve read and enjoyed, that was just a short sample.

So what have I learned? I’ve learned that there are loads of people out there who enjoy writing, for a host of different reasons. They all write differently, but each blog is worth reading. Some offer entertainment, others something to ponder on.

The challenge itself is proving well paced, with enough guidance to prevent staring at the keyboard and enough flexibility to enable choice of topics. I started with a list of suggested topics for each day, and abandoned that at about C, when I found that each day thinking about the day’s letter would provide plenty of ideas. One or two I had planned in advance and stuck to, some I had planned but changed, once I thought of something brilliant the day before, forgot on the day and then remembered again at the last minute.

The knowledge that I’m doing the same challenge as hundreds of others is fun as well – to write my entry and then take a look at others. Sometimes we’ve chosen the same word for the letter; more often we’ve gone for something completely different.

I’m really enjoying the regular writing, and hope I’ll be able to keep it up after the challenge is over.




Award time!

Liebster award logoThanks to the two people who nominated me for an award! It’s called the Liebster award, and Dizzy Stir and Reading, Writing and Life both  put this blog forward. As I understand it, this particular award is for blogs participating in the a-z challenge and with fewer than 200 followers, to give them a bit of a boost.

To accept the nomination I have to fulfil these requirements:

  1. Post the award on my blog
  2. Thank the blogger who gave me the award and link back to their site
  3. Post 11 random facts about myself
  4. Answer 11 questions that the presenter of the award has asked
  5. Nominate 11 new bloggers with fewer than 200 followers that I want to pass the award on to
  6. Ask my nominees 11 questions of my own

So I’ve linked back to both bloggers who nominated me.

11 random facts about myself:

  1. I chose my secondary school on the basis of the books in their library.
  2. I’m by far the youngest of my family.
  3. I have an O level in Latin.
  4. I was in Girls’ Brigade in my youth.
  5. I’m hopeless at housework.
  6. I like books that are tightly plotted, so that random things tie up together in a nice knot at the end.
  7. My childhood bedroom had hunting scenes on the wallpaper (I was mad on horses).
  8. I took a test a couple of years ago to ride a motorbike.
  9. I still feel the failure of being unable to complete a writing project at the age of 11.
  10. I still feel the buzz of a good painting I did at the age of around 9.
  11. I love wolves.

Having been nominated twice, I have twice as many questions to answer!

  1. Of the Three Stooges, which one are you most like: Larry, Curly, or Moe? Sorry, Never seen the Three Stooges at all!
  2. If you could take the place of any character in any book, who would it be and why? Ooh, tricky! Sounds corny, but Elizabeth Bennett perhaps?
  3. Mac or PC? PC all the way. Although I do have an iPad and an iPhone.
  4. What is your favorite book cover of all time? I do most of my reading on kindle these days, via my ipad app, so don’t see covers very often. I like a nice fantasy cover, though. And drawn, not photographed.
  5. What are the last 5 books you’ve read? Little Girl Lost by Brian Gilloway. Can’t Live Without, by Joanne Phillips. The Boy from Hell: Life with a child with ADHD, by Alison Thompson. Downton Abbey Scripts for series one. Games Design with Flash. A varied list!
  6. If your life was a movie, who would you want to play your nemesis? (HA! Tricked you on that one!) I survive the trick, because I think my nemesis is myself anyway! Toyah Wilcox would be fun I think.
  7. Vanilla or Chocolate? Vanilla. I like chocolate but not chocolate-flavoured things.
  8. By some strange accident of fate, I’ve been stranded in your home town. Can I stay at your place? I hate to sound inhospitable but I hate people coming into my home if I don’t know them really, really well 😦
  9. Are you sure? Never sure. Always assuming I’m wrong. Trying to get over that.
  10. What was your favorite book as a child? One of the Famous Five books, probably. And then one of the Saint books. Overall, I’m going to plump for Saint Overboard, as I still remember picking it up and finding it was really good (It was my father’s book, and I’d always assumed they were a) deadly dull and b) religious!).
  11. What is one word that describes your current MC? I’m not actively working on any fiction at the moment, I have lots of ideas/projects on the boil but nothing actually progressing particularly. One I would describe as special, and another as pregnant.

And for the second set:

  1. How many hours a day do you spend writing? On days I have time, a couple. When I’m working, more pottering around than actually writing.
  2. Who do you have to critique and/or edit your work? I’m working on a technical project, which my husband will help on. With fanfiction that I write, I’m afraid I usually push it out too fast. Once I’ve actually managed to complete a project, it will go to a friend or couple of friends who specialise in editing.
  3. What is your guilty pleasure? Taking time for myself, to run or relax.
  4. Why did you start blogging? I find that putting my thoughts down helps me figure out what they are, and getting stories down on paper helps me get them out of my head.
  5. What is your most popular blog post? Probably one of my technical posts on my other blog.
  6. What do you want written on your tombstone? She finally figured out what she wanted.
  7. What are some of your favorite books to read? (I’m graciously not limiting this to one.) Ender’s Game. Dick Francis books. I’ve read far too many to have very many I keep going back to.
  8. If you could have any one super-power, what would it be? To know what I want and how to do it easily. Or alternatively, to fly.
  9. If you could be invisible for a day, would you use your invisibility for evil or good? Good. I find it hard to do bad things deliberately even in something like a game.
  10. What would your “last supper” consist of? Pate on toast, liver and bacon with jacket potatoes. Then raspberry pavlova.
  11. What is your biggest pet peeve? People who don’t do what they’re supposed to do.

Nominate 11 bloggers, these are supposed to be those with fewer than 200 followers. In practice, I’m just going to nominate just a few blogs I enjoy reading, because most of the blogs I follow aren’t on the a-z challenge, and because I love breaking the rules.

  1. http://viridian61.blogspot.co.uk/
  2. http://coffeeringseverywhere.blogspot.in/
  3. http://the-view-outside.com/
  4. http://amamhc.blogspot.co.uk/
  5. http://usuallyboring.blogspot.ca/

Ask my nominees 11 questions:

  1. What’s your favourite TV program?
  2. If you were buying a book for someone who doesn’t usually read, what would you buy?
  3. Fiction reading or non-fiction reading?
  4. Do you read more than you write or write more than you read?
  5. What’s for breakfast?
  6. Type or handwrite?
  7. What was your favourite childhood tv or book character?
  8. How do you think the world will end?
  9. Radio/music or TV in the background?
  10. Housework: love it or loathe it?
  11. How good are you at doing what you know you should do?

Okay, that’s it, folks!





A is for attitude

The letter ASo often attitude is the deciding factor. Without the right attitude, you are unlikely to learn, unlikely to progress. You can have all the brilliance in the world, but a bad attitude will push people away and result in missing opportunities. You can have all the talent needed, but unwillingness to push yourself and take advantage of your talent will result in you sitting watching others succeed while you are left behind. On the other hand, if you’re prepared to keep pushing yourself forward and keep trying, then that is enough to overcome obstacles.

I’m reminded of the story I heard about frogs who fell into a vat of milk. Now why frogs would be anywhere near a vat of milk I don’t know, but that’s not important with regards to the story. What is important is that the frogs were struggling and unable to get out of the barrel. Gradually they began to tire and began to drown. One gave up completely and sank to the bottom and died. The other refused to accept defeat, kept kicking and kicking and eventually found something strange happening: the milk was turning to butter and become more solid. Eventually the milk solidified completely and the frog was able to hop to safety.

Actually, I’m not sure the story makes a lot of sense, but it does show one thing: if you refuse to accept defeat and keep going, then eventually things will start to go your way. Just don’t give up too soon.

Yes, I’ve surrendered. It’s always dangerous to come across a challenge at the beginning, because I tend to get sucked in. I want to get into the habit of writing regularly, and this A-Z challenge is one way to achieve that. Let’s see how far my attitude will get me through the month.

Just to explain, the challenge is to write each day in April except Sundays, which gives a total of 26 posts, and focus on a different letter of the alphabet each day. More blogs following the challenge are here.


Do you keep a diary?

Ever since we introduced middle son to Les Miserables, by watching the show DVDs and then taking him to see the movie, we’ve been arguing about when we first went to see the stage show and who the cast was at the time. After weeks of debating various points about who we remember seeing, what our lives were like at the time and trying to pin it down, inspiration struck and I headed for the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, where my old diaries and notebooks are kept.

I first started keeping a diary in 1988. It was a red five-year diary, and I kept it faithfully for a year and then very sporadically after that – there were various entries, including our wedding day, the few days around the birth of my eldest son in 1992 and our visit to the theatre to see Les Mis on Saturday 4th November 1989. “lunch in pizza hut then we went and saw les miserables. it was a great show and I loved the music.” We went to see it again about a year or so later, but that appears undocumented. It must have been in 1990 or 91 because it wasn’t after my son was born at the beginning of 92.

It’s an amazing feeling to be able to identify what happened on a specific day that long ago, and I really regret not having kept that particular diary properly, as it started in the year I met my husband and then continued past our wedding to the birth of our eldest, so probably the era of the biggest changes in my life ever.

Still, I picked up the diary habit again a few years later, around mid-2004 I think (must remember to write the year somewhere in a 5 year diary!) and have kept one solidly ever since. This year is the 5th year in my current diary, so every time I write in it I can look back on the same day in the four previous years. It’s odd switching to a new diary and not having a previous year to look back on!

I’ve also got loads of old notebooks from where I used to write morning pages – never reread, but probably full of complaining and planning. The rule is that the diary is written first thing in the morning but as though I was writing it the night before, about that day’s events, while the morning pages are written in the morning but looking forward to the day ahead and not looking backwards.

To some extent I have online diaries as well – my livejournal blog contains entries about various important episodes in my life, and this one contains general musings, and then of course there’s facebook – but when it comes to specifics of what I did on a given date, it’s the diaries that I can turn to most easily.

Sometimes it can be hard to fit in the day’s events to the few lines allotted. Sometimes it can be hard to even find enough to fill that space. Sometimes I let it slide and find myself writing up two or three days at a time, especially during holidays or other events where the normal routine is broken.

But this triumph of record-keeping has given me enough of a buzz to renew my resolution to keep recording activities in my diary, and maybe even to pick up the pen for a little longer and get back to regular morning pages.

Incidentally son’s greatest triumph at the moment is of “beating the bishop”* as we call it, or actually managing to read to the end of the original book of Les Mis. Hubby read it years ago, but at my first attempt the bishop completely defeated me, and on my second attempt I finally managed to get past the bishop but then ran out of steam. One day I’ll get back to it.

I did, however, once read War and Peace – that reading was inspired by a diary: Adrian Mole’s diary, to be precise.  Friday: got War and Peace out of the library. Saturday: took War and Peace back to the library. It was dead good!”  It took me a little more than the evening it apparently took Adrian, but finish it I did!

*In the musical, the character of the Bishop, while playing an important part in the redemption of Jean Valjean, appears in the story for a very short time. In the novel, several chapters are devoted to explaining his character, before anything actually happens. In fact apparently the book is full of such side passages, which the reader has to plough through (or skip!) between the main story passages.


Some amazing stories

I love reading blogs about people’s lives.  My life is routine and boring, so I liven it up with stories and musings, but there are some fascinating life stories out there that you get to follow as they unfold.  For many years – 7 or so I think – I’ve been following the story of a young boy who drowned when he was two.  He was brought back to life but lives on with severe problems.  I’ve picked up more recently the blog of a family who has ten children, the youngest with Downs syndrome, and has just adopted another child with downs from an orphanage in Bulgaria.  They are now working towards adopting another child with severe disabilities.

There’s the story of a girl who suffered a severe stroke at the age of 20.  There’s the story of a little boy who has a life limiting illness but not dying fast enough for the support system to work properly. The story of the junior school girl who blogs about her school dinners, and in the process has raised amazing amounts of money for a charity that provides meals to children in schools in developing countries, and has united children round the world in sharing stories about their food and their experiences.  There are so many stories out there of amazing lives, and I feel privileged to be able to share along with those stories.

This is a wonderful feature of the internet – that it reduces barriers, makes us all communicators rather than consumers of information.  Gives us a glimpse of other lives.  Shows us just how wonderful people can be.



Every year the publicity starts – and it doesn’t help that my email address is on a list both for the national/regional groups and for the local group – which just to add fuel to the fire is run by people I know.  I’ve done nano a couple of times, I think, and failed a couple of times more.  I’m enticed by the high of sensing the characters coming alive and arguing with me – and I suffer under time pressure, as really there’s little time to do anything but work.

So this year I’m making a decision NOT to do nanowrimo.  I just can’t commit to not only the time pressure of completing an average of 1600-2000 words a day, but the emotional pressure of having to deal with story development on top of everything else.

But what I will try to do is nablopomo – writing a blog entry every day for a month – and also trying to post a picture every day.  My problem with writing every day is that it’s not always something that should be published on the web, but it’s difficult to keep track of what I’m writing if I don’t publish it.

I guess I’ve got 24 hours to ponder that and figure out my approach.  Besides, it’s not as if I’m inundated with readers, who are likely to publicise my words, is it? 😉

Still, there’s stuff going on right now that I need to get out of my head and down in words somewhere, even if it’s not somewhere public, so I’ll be writing every day, even if it’s not open to others.  After all, I keep a daily diary recording activities of the day, and I’ve kept that up for several years (I think I’m halfway through the 3rd 5 year diary!).  So I’m already in the habit of writing regularly, even if it is just a few lines.

The advantage of committing to writing this way is that I’m not expecting to have anything that hangs together as a complete piece of writing by the end of the month.  What I do hope to do is to have got into the habit of writing, working through problems and expressing myself regularly.  Because I need something like that right now.

Writing is writing, right?

ICT in action bannerSo we’ve reached the summer holidays, and all this free time.  The trouble is, there seems to be so much I want to do, for a change, and therefore little time to do it in.

I do still want to write regularly, but I’ll also be writing on my other blog – ICT in Action.  That’s far more technical than this one, which is more creative.  I’ve decided to work on a project over the holidays, which will use all my skills – technical skills, programming skills and creative/writing skills.  I’ve no idea where that blog will go – I’m writing for myself in the main instance.  I know we talk about needing to think about audience and purpose, but for now my audience is primarily myself, to record what I’m doing and enjoy the chance to be productive, and if anyone else finds it who fancies learning about technical stuff then they’re welcome to it too.

I’m not an expert, and a little voice inside me is crying out: “Why bother?  You’ll only look silly, trying to pretend to be this expert when you’re not.  No-one will bother reading it unless it’s to laugh at you and your silly efforts.”

Then I firmly turn round to that voice and reply: “Yes, it may be pointless.  Yes, it might make me look silly.  But at least I’m doing something constructive, enjoyable and possibly useful.  At the very least the skills I will develop will help me personally and professionally, and maybe it will find the sort of readers who would enjoy my topics.  I’ve had enough of watching the content others create and feeling envious; it’s time I started doing things myself.  If it looks silly to others, then tough.  I’m sure that if I do anything like this my skills will improve, which is a benefit in itself, and at least I will have tried.”

The line between user and creator is blurring; I’d like to experience the other side for a while.  Trouble is, whatever I intend to do today ends with the phrase: “but first tidy your desk.”    That’s why I’m getting everything done but!  Is it better to work on it piece by piece, or clear it all off into a pile, achieve the desk that I’d like to have ready for working and then gradually work through the displaced stuff?  Clearing my desk is like archaeology – I gradually get down to different tasks that I’ve put to one side or forgotten to do.